Wolf plan to send $2,000 checks to taxpayers hits roadblocks

Gov. Tom Wolf says he's not giving up, calling on state lawmakers once again to enact his plan to send many Pennsylvanians a $2,000 check. Some Republicans call it a political stunt and inflationary.

Last February, Wolf said all households with a combined income of $80,000 or less should get a one-time check of up to $2,000. The Republican-controlled legislature ignored that request, so the governor is trying again.

"We tried this once before, and we're trying it once again because this is what Pennsylvanians really need and what they want," Wolf said last week at a press conference.

Wolf, a Democrat, is calling on Republican lawmakers to enact his opportunity program that would help tens of thousands of individuals and families get some extra help.

"Times are really tough for too many people right now. Prices are rising. Inflation is a problem. Paychecks are just not stretching as far as they once did," says the governor.

Republicans opposed the earlier version because it took funds from unspent federal COVID relief dollars.  Wolf is now proposing using unspent state surplus dollars.

"We now have $5 billion in our rainy day fund and in addition to that we've left over $5 billion, $5 to $6 billion, in an ending balance," he says.

Wolf estimates a quarter million Pennsylvania households would be eligible for $2,000 checks, costing about a half billion dollars out of the $10 billion to $12 billion the state is sitting on.

"This is a political stunt, and it's an election year, and a lot of political stunts are being played across the nation for parties that are not doing so well," says Pennsylvania Sen. Camera Bartolotta, a Washington County Republican.

A stunt, says Bartolotta, and it's inflationary, saying it's like the federal stimulus checks families received under Presidents Biden and Trump that some blame for today's inflation.

But Democrats like Pennsylvania Rep. Emily Kinkead say this money is needed now.

"Us just sitting on money that could be used to help people is, I think, irresponsible," says Kinkead.

Wolf says people are hurting and the state has the money.

"We have the funds to make this investment in the people of Pennsylvania, and we have that money right now.  The commonwealth of Pennsylvania is in a very, very strong financial position," says Wolf.

In addition to $5 billion in the rainy-day fund, Wolf estimates another $5 to $6 billion surplus in the recently passed budget.  His $2,000 check plan would cost about a half billion dollars.

But some Republicans like Bartolotta worry that a recession is on the way and now is not the time to spend.

"We can see down the road," she says. "If we spend the way Governor Wolf has been wanting to spend, we will see a $13 billion deficit in the coming years."

Bartolotta opposes the $2,000 check idea as does Pennsylvania Rep. Lori Mizgorski, a Shaler Republican.  Mizgorski says she'd rather see the money put into expanding programs that help people in need.

"Instead of just handing checks to specific people within a certain income guideline, it would be better to direct additional money into programs," says Mizgorski.

She cites child-care, low-income energy assistance and property tax rebates as programs for this money.

But Kinkead, a Pittsburgh Democrat, says it's better just to return cash to taxpayers, a position, Kinkead says, Republicans usually take.

"Now they literally have the opportunity to put taxpayer money where their mouth is to say, 'okay, let's give taxpayers the opportunity to spend their money, rather than the government,' and now they don't want to do it," notes Kinkead.

Since Republicans still control both the state Senate and state House, their support is needed to pass Wolf's proposal,  Nobody thinks that is likely to happen.